Does hooliganism need to be tempered?

There’s a saying that you may have heard of before.

‘There’s always one bad egg’.

Whilst for the most part, this is true, it shouldn’t mean that we have to accept it and move on.

When it comes to football fans, the saying remains relevant. Every club will have those that don’t care for crossing the line between friendly rivalry and genuine hate for one another.

We don’t even need to look at seasons gone by to find examples of when this occurs.

Aston Villa and Birmingham City are fierce rivals and this season, they faced off against each other in two West Midlands derbies in the English second division.

Villa claimed bragging rights in both contests, running out 4-2 winners at home in November and 1-0 winners at St. Andrews in March.

But the second match brought about one of the most disgusting acts we have ever seen on a football field.

Aston Villa captain Jack Grealish, with his back turned, was attacked by a Birmingham fan and copped a wild right haymaker that sent him crashing to the floor.

Fortunately, not only was Grealish unharmed by the attack, but he didn’t get up and try to exact revenge on the fan. The incident was quickly brought to a halt when Villa players and ground stewards stepped in and restrained him.

Grealish had the last laugh, scoring the winner and seeing his side home as victors. But it was a dark day for football, showcasing that some idiots that we thought were a thing of the past had slipped through the cracks.

Two more recent instances took place in the Champions League semi finals. After Ajax’s 1-0 win against Tottenham, some Spurs fans were seen throwing punches and beer bottles at Ajax fans in the middle of a London street.

Similarly, a few thousand kilometres west in beautiful Barcelona, some locals were attacked by Liverpool fans who, inexplicably, began dumping them into a nearby fountain.

Perhaps the most disgusting act of hooliganism seen this season was from the Southampton vs Cardiff City fixture earlier this year.

The match took place very soon after the extremely tragic death of Cardiff City signing Emiliano Sala, who died on a plane flight to Cardiff from former club, Nantes in France.

Sala’s death brought the football world together in mourning but for some, it was merely a chance to tear it open again.

In this video, a Southampton fan can be seen making plane gestures to the travelling Cardiff fans, a deplorable act which was met with much criticism online. Southampton have vowed to ban the fans who made these gestures.

Now, there’s no problem with being passionate about your soccer club. There’s also no problem with having fun on an away trip. But it’s these moments when people seem to just want to create problems and when that happens, it’s not good for anyone.

Granted, these hooligans don’t represent their club’s entire fanbase, but they do represent their club. These Liverpool fans can be seen laughing and mocking the local people of Barcelona and whilst they may feel they’ve done nothing wrong, they’re contributing to the image that their club has across the globe.

This isn’t solely aimed at these Liverpool fans either. Other clubs certainly do it and the same thing occurs to them.

Hooliganism can positively contribute to the soccer image across the globe. When done right.

There will always be one, two or maybe more who feel the need to commit such condemnable acts. But if clubs can start taking more serious action against these people, like Southampton did, it will demotivate those thinking of doing something similar.

It will show the club in a more positive light, show that they don’t stand for such acts and in general, it will allow hooliganism to adapt to the now and become, again, a more positive influence on soccer society.

All good things take time. But the more times we see such incidents, the more we wish we could hit the fast forward button into a time when these acts occur less.

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Caelum Ferrarese is a Senior journalist with Soccerscene. He reports widely on micro policy within Australasia and industry disruptions at grassroots level.

FA Wales takes action with Facility & Investment Vision

The Football Association of Wales (FAW), in collaboration with the Cymru Football Foundation (CFF), released the Facility and Investment Vision to improve the national football experience.

In a report published on its website, FAW and the CFF provide a detailed, statistical overview of Wales’ current football facilities, demonstrating the need for more investment, and the positive impact this could have on Welsh communities.

Football is the largest participation team sport in Wales, reporting over 87,000 active players across 811 registered clubs.

Moreover, football participation is a huge driver within the Welsh economy. FAW reports that the current overall return from football participation is over £550 million ($1.07 billion AUD), split across social, economic, and health sectors.

The association believes that further investment into the sport will generate an additional £1 million ($1.9 million AUD).

At the elite level, the Welsh men’s national team has progressed significantly in the last 10 years, performing well in the past two European Championships, and qualifying for the FIFA World Cup for the first time since 1958.

These achievements place a microscope on how the association maintains this success, but more importantly, how it can elevate pathways for juniors and women’s football.

The current situation

The statistics regarding current facilities in the FAW’s report illustrate a dire situation for Welsh football.

Pitch demand continually exceeds supply in Wales with a reported average number of five teams sharing one pitch, despite 60% of clubs advising a need for at least two pitches to operate effectively.

Pitch overuse explains why just 21% of Welsh football pitches are reported to be in “good” condition, whilst 1 in 5 games are cancelled due to wet weather and localised flooding. FAW believes these figures will increase if action is not taken now.

The delivery of artificial surfaces in the United Kingdom is the primary solution to combatting natural elements, yet, 54% of participants in a Welsh national survey state that access to those pitches is difficult.

Off the pitch, changerooms facilities are subject to similar negative feedback, with only 23% of participants saying their changerooms are in “good” condition.

This feedback takes on greater significance given the increased popularity of women’s football, and the subsequent need for more female-friendly changerooms.

A combination of poor pitch quality and changeroom facilities reduces an individual’s enjoyment in football, and this threatens participation and sustainability at all levels of the game.

Addressing the current situation

The purpose of the Facility and Investment Vision report is to show investors exactly what is required for football in Wales to move forward.

In particular, FAW has created a club model that uses the size of football clubs to determine the quantity of facilities required for them to run effectively.

To use an Australian comparison, an NPL club like Sydney Olympic would be considered large because it has over 20 teams at senior and junior level. Whereas a community club, that competes at amateur level (e.g Melbourne State Leagues), would be considered small.

 

The club model plan represents a smart and effective way to show potential investors what they can do for Welsh football.

 

Regarding current investment, the CFF has contributed over £9 million ($17.4 million AUD) as part of its mission to strengthen Welsh communities through football.

It is succeeding in its mission, with 98% of people reporting an improved experience when using facilities supported by the CFF.

FAW wants to improve its relationships with county councils and schools so that action plans can be drawn. This will help secure investment for better football facilities and smoother community access.

Objectives for the facilities vision

The overarching objective for FAW and CFF is to deliver a wider range of high-quality football facilities that stakeholders can access year-round.

The economic impact of future investment has been mentioned here already, but environmental sustainability is also at the forefront of the organisation’s plans.

FAW recognises the importance of future-proofing facilities to avoid early re-construction, thereby reducing its carbon footprint.

From an elite pathway perspective, FAW wants to build world-leading facilities to better support future generations of international players and coaches.

This goes beyond the provision of high-quality pitches and changerooms, with FAW insisting that technology, media, and commercial sectors must be improved.

FAW Chief Executive Noel Mooney explained the honest appraisal of football facilities in Wales is motivation for delivering a high-quality football experience.

“We know that facilities in Wales are not where they need to be, and this vision gives us a clear plan to bring facilities across Wales at all levels into the present day,” he told the FAW website.

Mooney elaborated further on the yearly target figure for investment, set by FAW and the CFF.

“We want to be able to invest at least £10 million a year into improving facilities in communities across Wales to bring them up to standard. This investment will continue to support the work that the Cymru Football Foundation is already doing and allow us to grow football in Wales on and off the pitch.

The Facility and Investment Vision demonstrates a commitment to Welsh football stakeholders by FAW and the CFF, and signifies an important moment in the future development of football in the country.

Regional stakeholders deliver their feedback in Football Victoria’s Regional Review

Football Victoria (FV) released their Regional Football Review, aimed at giving regional football stakeholders the platform to voice their feedback about the delivery of football in their local community.

FV’s overarching aim for the review is to assess the current health of regional football, and determine its future influence in areas of the regional game, such as governance, participation, infrastructure, and pathways.

These sporting communities battle a unique set of challenges to operate sustainably, but the ultimate goal for FV – like any governing sports body – is to bridge gaps between regional and metropolitan areas.

412 participants took part in the report, including parents, coaches, players and association members (paid and voluntary). In addition, 24 in-depth interviews took place with “key identified” stakeholders.

FV sought the assistance of consultancy company Solucio to independently facilitate the review.

Governance and Administration

Regional Victoria’s football landscape includes 12 associations and leagues, and 130 clubs. Some of these clubs do compete in metropolitan competitions run by FV, but remain based in regional locations.

The governance of most regional associations follow a club representative model, which the report describes as “not in line with current best industry practice,” and leads to inconsistencies in football delivery.

The model is favoured because of the primitive nature of clubs within regional associations, and the assistance associations can guarantee from club members.

However, stakeholders believe that areas such as competition management and future project planning suffer as clubs place their own interests ahead of others.

Administration is also considered a problem area, with paid staff members at regional associations stating that a lack of additional support from volunteers increases their workload into overtime.

When volunteers were surveyed about the health of regional football, 25% of them believed the game to be in ‘very poor’ health.

Yet, over 50% of team managers, association board members and staff, and club committee members say the game is in a ‘fair’ or ‘very good’ state.

A lack of strategic planning, and clear assignment of roles between paid staff and volunteers, is likely causing this disconnect between regional football stakeholders.

Contradictory though it may seem, stakeholders continue to support the club representative model.

Participation and Infrastructure

Participation in regional football is slowly growing again, returning closer to levels of growth prior to the COVID-19 Pandemic.

A reduced player registration fee for regional areas helps this growth, though, FV asserts that a levelling of regional player registration fees with metropolitan rates would create an extra $1.36 million in revenue.

This could be spent on improvements to the regional game, but a rise in registration fees is not in the best interests of growing football in regional communities.

Regarding female participation in football, there was negative but constructive feedback from stakeholders. Regional associations believe there is a lack of funding and resources to help them lead programs built for growing female participation.

FV is in the midst of its ambitious ‘FootballHerWay’ plan that aims to achieve 50/50 gender participation by 2027. Therefore, it makes sense for the organisation to consider more involvement in the delivery of female football programs to regional areas.

Regional school participation represents an area for improvement for FV, admitting in the report that the Australian Rules model (Auskick) is outperforming its efforts in terms of clinics and programs.

Recent investment in up-to-date football infrastructure, though, has been well-received, with most stakeholders considering future developments in infrastructure to be of less importance, despite the high satisfaction it provides communities.

The report acknowledges, though, that a gap exists between clubs and associations that have received upgrades, and those who have not.

According to regional NPL clubs, this gap is illuminated when visiting the facilities of metro NPL clubs.

Coaches

Coaches represent the most disgruntled stakeholder demographic, with 43% of those interviewed believing the health of regional football to be ‘poor’ or ‘very poor’.

There was negative feedback about pathways for coaches – particularly first-timers – who either do not have the capacity to attend accreditation courses, or are unmotivated to attain their licenses.

Some participants believe the approach to coach education is too metro-centric, citing additional expenses such as travel, food, and accommodation, just to attend a coaching accreditation course.

A wider problem exists in the marketing and promotion of coaching courses, with many regional associations lamenting the fact that courses are often cancelled due to small numbers.

One stakeholder floated a recommendation to subsidise Melbourne-based coaches to partake in regional-based courses to improve numbers.

This issue transcends into school participation, where stakeholders believe opportunities to grow participation are being neglected.

There is an over-reliance on unqualified parents or teachers passionate about the game to pioneer clinics or programs, and whilst participation is higher when this occurs, it is not sustainable in the long-term.

Players

A lack of motivated or accredited coaches inevitably impacts the morale of players, and this trend is consistent with the review’s findings, where 39% of players consider the health of regional football to be poor or very poor.

The pathway to elite football for junior players in regional areas, which is well-documented as being an all-encompassing, often sacrificial experience, that asks players and parents to spend large amounts of time and money.

Most stakeholders surveyed recognise the provision of elite-level football education within their communities as a key area for improvement. This helps to keep players grounded, and less susceptible to burnout at younger ages.

Further to this, Football Australia’s recent unveiling of the National Talent Development Scheme (NTDS) should provide a more level-playing field for players in regional areas to access elite pathways.

Again, better conditions and resources for coaches is recommended to help regional players. Some stakeholders recommend the provision of more metro-based coaches to deliver training to players in regional areas.

For senior players, there is a greater level of satisfaction among regional NPL clubs based closer to Melbourne than those playing in regional competitions.

Short season length (due to a small number of clubs) for regional competitions is cited as an issue in the review, which is likely to dissatisfy players.

Stakeholders suggest alternative competitions could be organised to lengthen the season and further engagement, but this could exasperate association staff members and volunteers.

Referees

Referees are a more satisfied demographic than players and coaches, and this is reflected by an increase in numbers across regional Victoria.

The review acknowledges that whilst this is positive, it stretches association resources for referee development.

Similarly to players and coaches, there is an expectation that more accessible pathways be provided to referees to upskill.

Specifically, existing referees desire more practical education in the form of officiating more metropolitan NPL games. Not only would this improve their ability, it provides more opportunities for mentoring and promotion to the elite.

Beyond the Review

The qualitative feedback provided by participants will be considered for FV’s regional football plan from 2025 onwards. Head of Growth & Development at FV, Lachlan Cole, reflected further on this.

“The engagement and contributions from Regional Victorians have been invaluable in putting the needs of Regional Football at the forefront of this project,” he told the FV website.

“The Discussion Paper and Survey Results provide a real snapshot of our current landscape, from several different perspectives, and will guide the formulation of really positive and meaningful recommendations.”

The Regional Football Review’s assessment of the health of football in rural Victoria shines a light on the difficulties regional football faces across the country.

There is a growing desire for better pathways and programs for players, coaches, and referees, as well as a greater provision of resources to maintain the standard of football delivery for the future.

Whether FV as an organisation chooses to involve themselves more in the governance and administration of regional football associations will be a topic for discussion in the near future.

The Regional Football Review Discussion Paper can be viewed in full here.

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